For my congregational studies class, we are conferencing this week on conflict. We are reading Congregational Life Dynamics and Conflict Management: An Application of Family Systems Theory.
One section stood out to me in particular; how does our faith form our approach to conflict management?
The following premises are distinctive to our faith, and they matter. We Unitarian
· Not just to affirm and promote in the abstract, but to respect one another’s dignity actively, in all our encounters.
o Thus, to engage each other caringly and carefully, and not to behave in ways that are intentionally hurtful.
o To rely on persuasion rather than coercion.
· To accept one another as growing persons, neither perfect nor “jerks.”
o Thus, to avoid blaming one another for problems.
o To take care not to engage in mind reading or in attributing unsavory motives to others.
· To believe that each of us has some part of the truth and rarely, if ever, does any one of us have the whole or sole truth.
o Thus, to speak our truth.
o To listen to the truth of our companions.
o To welcome, not fear, our diversity.
· To believe that a congregation exists to serve a greater good.
o Thus, not to insist only on our own way (my self trumps all others).
o To appreciate that there are many pathways and manners of ethical
I think that one of the hardest ones for me - and in my experience with others in intentional conflict management situations, is the desire to assign blame, or to "mind read." As much as I hate it when people do these things to me, it is easy to fall into these methods of trying to make sense of a situation, especially when it is not clear that the other party is not playing by these same rules!
As part of Clinical Pastoral Education this summer, we studied systems theory for many hours. I expanded some of my learnings into a homily for my learning convocation in September, and distilled down four important points:
1. Make lots of room. There is room for the other and for difference. Life is both...and, not either...or.
2. Be curious. Don't make assumptions and try to make connections.
3. Stay in the moment. Everything is happening in the present. Let the past and future fend for themselves in a conflict.
4. Our own emotions are a barometer for what is happening in the larger group or conflict.
Going back to these basic points of faith, and of the reality of how systems work can help one to stay grounded in the moment, to avoid assumptions of intent, to make room for differences, and to stay open to possible connections.
The document goes on to say, with simple profundity:
"For that matter, this may be the core issue of conflict management: working to create a desired change without trying to force it on others. Somehow, we need to come to a shared desire, mutually respectful of our
divergent needs and wants, if we are to change the balance of forces in the relational system.
Conflict management, then, may have something to do with managing one’s self rather than others. Systems theory argues that if I change me within our relationship, it will change you. So here’s the ultimate paradox: When I am feeling conflicted with you, I don’t need to do anything to you. I need only to work on me and my own functioning."
This is also at the core of Wellspring. Letting the shy soul peek out, letting our own inner voice come into sacred space, where it is respected and able to be heard. Now, if only all of life was run like a Circle of Trust!